Monday, March 28, 2011

The 1930 George Whitney House -- No. 120 East 80th Street

When Vincent Astor and his wife built their Regency-style stone mansion at 130 East 80th Street in 1926 the neighborhood abruptly became even more fashionable. Rapidly, similar grand homes were erected until the block between Lexington and Park Avenues was one of the loveliest in the city.

Among the wealthy who settled on the block were banker George Whitney, his wife Martha and their family. Whitney, of the J. P. Morgan Company, chose Cross and Cross to design the new home at No. 120 in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. Despite the sudden upheaval in the country’s financial conditions, the Whitneys forged on with their project.

Cross and Cross, who had established a reputation as one of the favorite architectural firms of New York’s old guard, created an exceptionally dignified and beautifully proportioned home. Constructed of red brick with white marble accents, it harkened back to the refined Federal mansions of a century earlier. A nearly-vertical slate mansard is punctured by three shallow, arched dormers and crowned with a railing that smacks of Chinese Chippendale.

A white marble, half-circular porch is supported by fluted Doric columns upon which rests a graceful black metal railing, creating a balcony on the second floor.

The Whitney’s home was completed in 1930, a year in which twenty private homes in Manhattan were demolished for every one constructed. But while office buildings and apartment houses replaced the rows of brownstones, the East 80th Street block stood firm. Mrs. Whitney’s exceptional “hidden gardens” in the rear of the house were the object of annual charity tours.

The couple, who also owned a country estate, “Home Acres,” in Old Westbury, Long Island, lived on in No. 120 with their daughters Elizabeth Beatrice, Martha Phyllis and their son George until 1954. In June of that year, George Whitney sold the home, assessed at around $190,000, to a real estate operator who planned its conversion into apartments. Yet the sale and conversion did not mean that riff raff would be moving in.

Instead, socialites like Mrs. Otto Crouse, who was heavily involved in social charity events for decades, took up residence.

photo by Jim Henderson
Today the Whitney’s formal Federal mansion looks from the sidewalk as it did in 1930. There are 38 apartments in the six-story home which still retains much of its original detailing. In designating the house a landmark in 1968, the Landmarks Designation Commission noted that the proportions, refinement of details, quality of craftsmanship and “quiet accents” combined “to produce an outstanding architectural entity.”


  1. Before there was Bernie Madoff, there was Richard Whitney, George Whitney's eminently less respectable brother. A former head of the NY Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney concealed years of stock fraud and outright thievery behind a fa├žade of hauteur and WASP snobbism. His story is wonderfully told in Malcolm MacKay's book, Impeccable Connections.. George Whitney's descendants claim that they are no where near as rich as they should be due to the inroads made in George Whitney's fortune making his brother's victims whole. The magnificent garden still exists, by the way, and is wonderfully maintained. Interestingly, there is a short flight of stairs in the garden that at one time clearly led to the connecting garden of the house directly to the south. I was told that this house was also owned by the Whitneys and was used to house excess staff, the staircase being used for easy access between the houses.

  2. My great grandmother, Gyda Aamodt, was a house servant for George and Martha Whitby. She immigrated from Norway to New Zealand and then somehow ended up in New York.